Hoping to lure businesses away from Microsoft Office and into the cloud, Google unveiled the Google Apps Marketplace...
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at its Campfire One developers conference this week. The Marketplace integrates other vendors' services with Google Apps accounts so that users can get to them through Gmail, Google Docs and other application services.
HR can tie Inuit Online Payroll to employees' Google Calendar, for instance, to automatically send out paystubs, or use eFax's internet faxing services right from Gmail. Analysts call it a way for Google to perk up enterprise interest in its online office productivity services and add credibility as a platform, but note that it's well behind the pack.
"It certainly presents a much fuller opportunity to support a business," said Sheri McLeish, information and knowledge analyst at Forrester Research.
McLeish cautioned, however, that the Marketplace will not necessarily change how enterprise users view online office products -- with deep suspicion. "The key issue," she said, "is businesses and enterprises may be interested or have their curiosity piqued [by Google Apps] but have expressed little interest so far in moving."
McLeish cited security and privacy hurdles; Google mines user content to help it target advertising and had some well publicized security gaffes around Google Docs. She pointed out that businesses do not lack office software or email, and they don't want to abandon their investments just to hop on the latest bandwagon.
Apps on the cheap may interest enterprises
The pressure, however, is there. McLeish suggested that new business units and enterprises ripe for technology overhauls would look keenly at cheap online services like Google Apps instead of more Office licenses.
"Cost does seem to be the overwhelming driver for enterprises looking at this," she said.
Although Google does have a few very large enterprise users of Google Apps, they tend to lean toward selective use -- just Gmail, for instance, like the City of Los Angeles -- instead of going whole hog and replacing Microsoft Office products with Google Docs.
Google currently puts its Apps customer base at around two million businesses, with over 20 million individual users.
"For enterprises that have greater risk concerns around security and service, they're not going to jump ship today or tomorrow," said McLeish.
She also said that the partner ecosystem was half-baked at the moment, noting that she'd never heard of some of the applications now showing as "most popular" on the Marketplace. She said it's too early to tell how much weight Google would throw behind the Marketplace, but it was clear that the company was serious about being a player in the enterprise services business.
Google's in for a battle
Google has an uphill fight, however. Users are notoriously churlish when it comes to moving away from standbys like Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes; the slightest hitch or lack in an online replacement can instantly sour them on the idea, and the Software as a Service (SaaS) market is quite mature, while Google's Apps Marketplace is not.
Salesforce.com's AppExchange, for instance, is far more useful and more tightly integrated for enterprise users looking to add to their SaaS portfolios, while the only name brands on the Marketplace that an enterprise user might recognize off-hand are Intuit and NetSuite.
Notably lacking are partnerships with the real players in the enterprise services world, such as Salesforce.com or SAP, although those companies have well-established integrations with traditional office software. Add that to Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite, which competes directly with Google Apps, and the search giant may be in over its head.
Advanced users might find added Marketplace value
Vendors that are already on the Marketplace, however, are excited; cloud provider Skytap said it's great for bleeding-edge users.
"Our [test and development customers] use Google Docs all the time to debug and work on projects -- what we've found is they're switching back and forth all the time," said Ian Knox, senior director of product management for Skytap. Integrating Skytap into Google Apps fixes that.
Skytap's Marketplace offering lets administrators assign virtual machines and projects to unique Google identifiers (using OpenID) so users can sign in to Gmail, for instance, and click through to their cloud infrastructure without a hitch. Knox said users wanted the single point of entry and "seamless" experience, and it fits the cloud computing narrative so often heard.
"There are 25 million users of Google Apps…they've bought off on using cloud. What we're seeing is a shift to Everything as a Service," he said.
Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.